Three days before she died, WXLT-TV talk show host Christine Chubbuck hosted a party at her oceanfront house in the well-to-do neighborhood of Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida. It was a departure for the usually reserved 29-year-old newscaster.
“She didn t seem the type to hang out and then all of a sudden we get this invitation she is going to have a huge party at her place,” says Craig Sager, a sports sideline reporter for TNT and TBS and a former WXLT-TV reporter. “We thought this is fantastic. She is coming out of her shell. This will be a treat.”
For more on Christine Chubbuck’s shocking on-air suicide in 1974, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday
At the Friday, July 12, 1974 soiree, Chubbuck “was smiling,” says Sager. “She was having a great time. It was like, ‘Oh My God’ this is such a different side to her.” About 30 people, including co-workers and friends, attended the party.
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The following day, Sager says he left town to cover baseball’s spring training. He was doing so when he got the news that Chubbuck had shot herself in the head on live television during her civic affairs show, Suncoast Digest. She died 15 hours later at a Sarasota hospital.
Chubbuck’s death made headlines around the country and helped inspire the 1976 film Network, starring Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch.
Now, 40-years later, Chubbuck’s tragic tale is being explored in two films that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last month: Christine, which delves into the up-and-coming reporter’s final days, and Kate Plays Christine, a pseudo documentary on Chubbuck’s life.
After her death, colleagues later found a handwritten news story she wrote in the third person about her own suicide attempt on the news desk. They also discovered a letter mentioning the house party she had before she died.
“That was her going away party and it was her chance to say goodbye to everyone, but of course we didn’t realize it at the time,” says Sager. “It was just so shocking.”